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Devar Torah - Behaalotecha

Friday, 21 June, 2019 - 1:44 pm

Succeeding in our mission doesn't last
unless it’s earned fair and square!

By Rabbi Shimon Raichik

This week's parsha continues with the theme of the Jewish people traveling through the desert. The three families of the tribe of Levi, Geshon Kehos and Merari where charged with the responsibility of carrying all the components of the Mishkon and with setting it up upon arrival at each encampment.

What do all the intricate details of who did what and how it was done in the desert with the components of the Mishkon so long ago for such a limited period of time have to do with us today?   The Rebbe explains (Likutei Sichos v.13 Naso) based on the Alter Rebbe (Likutei Torah Naso) that our lives and our homes need to be made into a Mishkon, a home for Hashem, where the light of the Shechina dwells. We are the Kohanim who light the menorah, the candles are the Mitzvahs and the light is the Torah which permeates into every corner of our homes.

A home is not just made up of four walls, a home also needs furniture, utensils and other basic necessities. We cannot have a place to put these basic necessities without a foundation four walls and a roof. Also, just as in a physical home one needs to first clean the house and only then place in the furniture and utensils so too in the home we create for Hashem. While the main activity and focus in the Mishkon was with activities involving the Holy Vessels (the Aron the Shulchan the Menorah and the Mizbeach etc.) which was the responsibility of the Children of Kehos, nevertheless it all took place on backdrop of the work of the Children of Merari and Gershon who were responsible for the foundation, walls and covering of the Mishkon.

In our personal service of Hashem we cannot have a context in which to do our service without a spiritual foundation walls and a roof. Spiritually Gershon which means to divorce, represents divorcing ourselves from all forces of negativity. Just like Gershon put up covers to protect from anything negative from the outside so too we need to divorce ourselves from any negative influences to be able to fully invest ourselves into the positivity of the service of Hashem. Once we have cleaned the home and are protected from the negative, we were able to bring in all the positive, the Holy Vessels, the Torah and mitzvos to fully shine into our home. Just as fire and water cannot be in the same vessel at the same time so too the pleasures of the world do not fit with love and closeness to Hashem.

The name Merari means bitterness. The job of the Children of Merari was to take care of the sockets, the foundation and the walls of the Mishkon. For any real and lasting positive change to take place in our lives requires a realization that we lack something.  This feeling of lack or bitterness (Merari) represents the foundation of change for the better in our lives. Just like as we cannot put up a roof without a wall and a wall without a foundation, not to mention to bring in furniture, so too we cannot separate from the negative (Gershon) and build the positive Mishkon and serve within it (Kehos)  without the foundation of change which comes about through bitterness (Merari), the realization and feeling of what is missing in our service of Hashem. We cannot fool ourselves and not clean up our act and at the same time make our lives fully into a Mishkon for Hashem sustainably.

On the other hand Chassidus explains that we don't have to wait until we have reached perfection to take action. The Rebbe’s approach was to reach out to everyone regardless of their personal state or station in life and encourage them to put on tefillin and light Shabbos candles etc. The idea is to use this moment as it is to do a mitzvah as well as the notion that the mitzvos will draw out the desire for more (all) mitzvos. The message we send to others with our activities is to stop what you're doing (Gershon), listen and to do a mitzvah (Kehos). At the moment that we are doing that mitzvah we are not invested or involved in negativity. In this way we skip directly to the service of Geshon and Kehos and  it brings us to an awareness that we are a Jew with a purpose and we are different.

Nowadays we've seen the service of Merari and Gershon almost disappear entirely. It's all about feeling good and self-esteem. We cannot tell the child he's wrong in this environment out of fear that we might damage his self-esteem and he wouldn't feel good. Due to  this type of environment there isn’t a lot of opportunity to create meaningful and lasting change in the lives of others. The truth is that just as we need to know about positive we need to know about negative. By knowing about what's wrong we have an opportunity to make it better just like the sockets  create the foundation of the Mishkon through the service of Merrari; the feeling of bitterness and a need to improve. Because of our avoidance to voice any lack in our children our students and in our homes, they grow up without the tools they need to overcome challenges. Chassidus teaches us to focus on the positive but in order for the positive to be realized we cannot ignore what is negative. We recognize what is negative and we push it away with positivity, the trust that we have been given the power to make positive change. To ignore that there is a negative at all is to ignore that opportunity to make things better.

This brings us to the issue of the widespread use and legalization of marijuana. In today’s environment, this feel-good only atmosphere (no matter how temporary) has spawned a permissive global movement which swept across the world that has led to the legalization of marijuana. The logic is; Why not feel great all the time?

It is a big mitzvah to be happy all the time but that is not what the Torah was referring to! When it is an external substance that artificially makes us feel good, when it dissipates we are back to square one, feeling the way we felt before, unchanged. If there's no foundation, which includes truthful bitterness for what we lack in our service of Hashem (the sockets of Merari) then there is no cleaning up of our act (Gershon)  and no sustainable context for positive change (Kehos).

The Hayom Yom for the 12th of Sivan states: “Cherish criticism, for it will place you on the true heights.” We don't believe in criticism for its own sake. We don't embellish, overuse or selfishly indulge in criticism. It is the furthest thing from our values. Nevertheless, the Rebbe Rashab says to cherish criticism;  not in order to slam someone else rather to tell the truth the way it really is as best you can. True, not everyone can do this and even those that can don't necessarily do it well, nevertheless it's in that person’s best interest and one of our integral values not just to say that everything is okay and that you're good and fine. When we will cherish criticism, it place us on the true heights. By cherishing criticism we gain the opportunity to build to change and to grow to make ourselves and our home a place where Hashem’s presence can dwell. There are no real shortcuts by getting high. In the long run we'll have to come back and address what is lacking anyway. Love and cherish the opportunity that you have now instead of running hiding and getting high, even to daven!

Memories of my father come to me echoing through time as he sat mulling for hours over his nightly Krias Shema. He was constantly at work in his service of Hashem, contemplating and asking himself what he did, what should be done, and how tomorrow is going to be a lot better. He spent his entire life working through what is lacking (Merari), protecting from negative influences (Gershon) and on learning the Torah and helping other people (Kehos). The way of a penimi is not to skip but to go through every step. At times we can jump over but it's not by avoiding the truth.

Nowadays as Rabbonim, Mashpiim and Machanchim it's very difficult to address people directly. People become defensive and then jump all over you. There were many occasions when the Rebbe would speak directly about what was lacking, opportunities that were being missed, what to separate from and then what needed to be done. Their purpose was clear; it wasn’t to criticize, it was to give us the opportunity to address what needed addressing. It is in everyone’s best interest to remind ourselves and others (our children in particular) about what we saw and what we heard from the Rebbe and act in a similar way.

When R’ Shmuel Munkes came to the Alter Rebbe the first time, he arrived on the town of Liozhna in the middle of the night. Not knowing where the Alter Rebbe resided, he searched for a house that was lit up, surmising that surely the home of the Alter Rebbe would be lit up at night. When he knocked on the door, the Alter Rebbe himself opened for him, and asked him what he wanted. “I would like to stay here overnight”, R’ Shmuel replied. “There are other homes to stay in, in this town”, the Alter Rebbe said to him. “So what”, R’ Shmuel retorted, “is this not also a Jewish home?” The Alter Rebbe warned him: “I will call the goy to chase you away”.

At that point R’ Shmuel burst into tears, exclaiming: “Rebbe, mein goy iz gresser vi aier goy” [my “goy” is bigger than your “goy”]. It was then that the Alter Rebbe took him in, and R’ Shmuel had his first yechidus.

One interpretation of this story is that the Alter Rebbe wanted Shmuel Munkes to explain why he really wanted to be there and what he really sought from the Alter Rebbe and from Chassidus. When Shmuel Munkes cried (with bitterness), and said that his goy was big he was telling the Alter Rebbe that he was aware of why he came, it was to address what he lacked due to his big goy, his yetzer hara.  It was only then that the Alter Rebbe then accepted him for yechidus.

As Rabbonim Mashpiim and Machanchim it is of utmost importance to take the time to listen and analyze what a person is asking before giving an answer or taking a position on any matter, especially those that affect many people. It’s a mistake to give the answer that makes our congregants, students and followers happy or feel good  without taking the total picture into consideration and the impact of our answers from all sides. It’s better not to give any answer than to answer without true objectivity.

There is an educator in our city who goes to the homes of his students before making a plan for them in the classroom. He takes the time to learn and absorb the student’s entire home and social environment before crafting a curriculum for that child.  

As Rabbonim and Mashpiim we should not answer questions involving other people without understanding the situation on the ground from all sides and from all perspectives. Without the proper foundation of understanding of what is lacking (Merari) our efforts to protect others from harm (Gershon) can be temporary at best and potentially have the opposite effect (G-d forbid). A Rav and a Mashpiah are much more than a google search box. To produce positive results (Kehos) requires a dynamic approach, and it's not always what the questioner wants to hear. It needs to be the truth to help others build and develop a sustainable and well lit Mishkon of Hashem in our homes, schools and communities.

May we witness the rekindling of the Menorah in the eternal Beis HaMikdash Hashlishi immediately.

A Good Shabbos

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